HARRISBURG, Pa. — The door to the House of Representatives is locked.
A partisan fight over operating rules has left the House unable to reconvene, and therefore unable to vote on any legislation.
Unable to preside over session, newly elected Speaker of the House Mark Rozzi (D-Berks) left the Capitol and Harrisburg altogether for a listening tour across the state. At stops in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, he promoted his signature piece of legislation, a constitutional amendment to give victims of childhood sexual abuse a two-year window to sue their abusers past the statute of limitations.
“My first priority as speaker, and I have made it clear, is to get victims of childhood sexual assault, children who have been raped, justice,” Rozzi said at the Pittsburg stop on Jan. 25.
Rozzi had pledged to hold up all votes in the House until the amendment was passed. It was an effort to get the measure added to the May 16 primary election ballot as a voter referendum.
The deadline to get the referendum on the May ballot is now past, according to the Department of State.
An official said time is needed before the election to publish the required notices in newspapers across the state, work with the office of the Attorney General to write a plain language statement, and translate advertisements in both Spanish and Chinese, as required by the Voting Rights Act.
The next chance for the measure to go before voters is now the Nov. 7 election. The Department of State would need the amendment to be passed in the legislature by Aug. 7 in order to get the question on the ballot.
“We’ve been fighting for this for a long time. I would have preferred May in the primary, but November is second best,” said State Rep. Tim Briggs (D-Montgomery), who is part of a recently formed “Speaker’s Workgroup to Move Pennsylvania Forward” tasked with ending gridlock in the House.
The measure has long drawn bipartisan support, but faced a series of setbacks.
Its most recent iteration did pass in the Senate, but bundled with two other amendments only supported by Republicans. One would allow the legislature to overturn an emergency declaration made by the governor and the other would require government identification to vote.
“I don’t think any Democrat would feel comfortable voting for it as a package. We’ve all been pretty clear,” Briggs said.
House Republicans said unlike Senate Republicans, they would have passed the amendment as a standalone measure. They blamed Democrats for not compromising enough on operating rules to reconvene the House.
“We were very flexible. We were willing to do them as a group or individually. The important thing was just having the votes so we could have that opportunity,” said Republican Leader Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster).
Special elections on Feb. 7 are expected to give Democrats a clear majority in the House. They will likely use that majority to approve operating rules and reconvene. With a majority, they will have more power to push the measure through without other amendments.
“It’s unfortunate because I think all this has been a distraction from getting this very important work done,” Cutler said.